Monday, December 14, 2009

A secret document has emerged of alarming tests Iran has planned

The West and its secret documents.

Let's say the document is genuine, and for all I know it is. No evidence has been presented that it is genuine, there is not even a back-story whose plausibility we can assess. Some Asian intelligence service discovered it somehow. If a document like this had been important, then the fact that undated and visibly edited documents are extremely easy to forge and there are several independent bodies with both the means and motivation to forge something like this would mean I'd assign the document, until corroboration arrives, no evidential value.

But the document is not important.

Iran is no longer implementing the Additional Protocols of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran's legal obligation under the original NPT and the safeguards agreement it ratified are that it not produce a weapon and not divert fissile material to a weapons program. That's it. The legal requirements of the NPT are not very stringent. The treaty itself explicitly allows a member nation to, with relatively short notice, free itself from all requirements and go ahead and actually build a weapon.
Article II

Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes not to receive the transfer from any transferor whatsoever of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices or of control over such weapons or explosive devices directly, or indirectly; not to manufacture or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices; and not to seek or receive any assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices.
By the NPT, Iran is allowed to develop weapons designs, it is allowed to test components for a weapon, it is allowed to plan tests. Iran is not allowed to manufacture a weapon and it is not allowed to divert its uranium or any thorium or plutonium from civilian to military use while it is in the treaty. The document does not say Iran has done anything prohibited by the documents that Iran considers to be legally in force.

The biggest problem the document causes is that it gets the Western non-proliferation community very excited. Western analysts have a really naive and self-centered perception that the more strongly they feel their concerns are justified, the more pressure Iran feels to cooperate with them. The Fordo plant had not been illegal when it surfaced, but similarly it made the Western proliferation community feel indignant, and they were sure this sense of indignance would in some way cause Iran to feel pressure to submit to their demands.

So here we go. In the world of Western non-proliferation analysts, the only possible response for Iran to this document is to ship most of its uranium to Russia, to ease their concerns. It is perfectly legal for the US to have concerns about Iran's nuclear program, or to consider it bad, or to lack trust in it, or to doubt it has purely peaceful purposes, or to suspect Iran's intentions might include gaining a nuclear capability. It is amazing how important this document seems in London and Washington compared to how unimportant it must seem in Tehran.

About Article 2, I've read a British analyst claim that the document from the Khan network describing fashioning metal hemispheres from uranium constitutes assistance in building a weapon. I would call that a stretch of an interpretation and still to be rectified within the framework of the NPT, which does not mandate under any circumstances the suspension of civil nuclear activities. I guess it's arguable, like the idea that the UN Security Council can overturn any sovereign right it chooses and has legally revoked Iran's right to enrich uranium.

As far as the document goes, Baradei is gone so this will show us the inclination of his successor, Yukiya Amano of Japan. The worst case for Iran is that Amano decides the document is genuine and demands to speak to people referred to in the document. This demand is outside of Iran's legal requirements even if the document is genuine, and Iran will not comply with the demand. The IAEA will add that demand to the list of demands whose legality Iran disputes, including that Iran ratify a new treaty, that are already in the UNSC resolutions and Iran will continue building its LEU stockpile. In practical terms, in the worst case scenario for Iran, nothing changes about the situation.

This document, forged or genuine, is completely irrelevant to the issue of negotiating how much enrichment will Iran's program have going forward. How many centrifuges, how large a domestic stock. Maybe no agreement can be reached, but any statement or argument that does not address either the question of number of centrifuges or kilograms of stock LEU is really a waste of time.

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